Favorite Christmas Repertoire 2017

What? It’s been four years since I’ve posted about my favorite Christmas repertoire to teach. Time for an update! I was happy to see that some of my favorites from 2013 have stood the test of time and are still beloved by students in 2017 (only four years, I know).

For beginning students I usually stick to the method Christmas books. I find that beginners like to play as many Christmas songs as possible since it is the first time they have been able to play Christmas songs. It’s like a kid in a candy shop! I give them all the candy they want. ūüôā

For students who have been playing awhile, this is my Christmas favorites list:

Celebrated Christmas Solos by Robert Vandall

Celebrated Christmas Solos

Robert Vandall’s Celebrated Christmas Solos series contains five books and are vintage Vandall. He is the master at taking well-known tunes and making them sound highly stylized no matter the level. Between all my students, almost every song in books 1-3 are played each year. Some of our favorites include: Deck the Halls (Book 1), almost every song in Book 2, God Rest Ye Merry, Gentlemen (Book 3), Jingle Bell Rock (Book 3), Let It Snow! (Book 4), and Joy to the World (Book 5).

Christmas Memories by Melody Bober

Christmas Memories

Melody Bober has written two collections of Christmas music: Christmas Memories and Popular Christmas Memories, and both are simply lovely. There are three books ranging from early intermediate to late intermediate in each collection. Student favorites include traditional pieces such as: “What Child Is This”, “O Come, All Ye Faithful”, “Jingle Bells”(great jazzy version), and from the popular books: “Believe” from Polar Express, and “There’s No Place Like Home for the Holidays”. These pieces feel like they have been lovingly crafted by a master composer.

A Dozen a Day Christmas

Dozen Christmas

I love using the Dozen a Day series in everyday teaching so much that I wrote a separate blog post about it. So it is natural that I would use the corresponding Christmas repertoire. I have used the Preparatory and Mini Christmas books. Both of these books are designed for beginners and are especially great for students who have had some experience using Dozen a Day. A lot of the technical exercises in the books are incorporated into the solo Christmas pieces. This means that these pieces are easy to teach and to learn since the concepts are familiar.

In Recital with Christmas Favorites

In Recital

This series and the companion series “In Recital with Popular Christmas Music” each contain six books from early elementary to late intermediate levels. The pieces are stylistically arranged by leading composers and edited by Helen Marlais. I like these books because there is so much information for the teacher including leveling, musical concepts covered in each book, and technical skills required for each level. The pieces can be used for a sing along or a solo performance, they sometimes contain teacher duets, and most books have at least one or two same-level duet parts. You can also download free recordings of these pieces.

Piano Pronto Publishing

 

You can order these Christmas pieces from the Piano Pronto website in book format delivered through the mail or you can download them to print on your own printer. The Christmas Classics Volumes 1 and 2 are a good value for the money – there are fourteen pieces in volume one and twelve in volume two. Pieces in these collections are lyrical and lovely. The left hand accompaniment usually follow a note-fifth-octave pattern, which is especially useful for students who may be a little weak in reading bass clef.

Jazzy Jingles Volumes 1 and 2 are also a good value for the money. Some of the arrangements are definitely written in a strong jazz style, some are a mix of traditional styling plus jazz nuances. We especially love “Noel Nouvelet” in volume 1 and “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel” in volume 2.

Susan Paradis

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I think we should all stand up and cheer for Susan Paradis. Her selection of pre-reading and primer music is outstanding. Her “Jingle Bells” pre-reading song is used by every student of mine who begins lessons in September. Their faces light up and they can’t wait to play the song for parents and family because they love it so much.

Linus and Lucy

Charlie Brown Christmas

Definitely a perennial favorite. One of the best arrangements of this piece is found in Piano Adventures Popular Repertoire 2B. Although this is not technically a Christmas piece, my students enjoy hearing it and performing it at our annual Christmas party. I have a student playing the more advanced version this year and she’s loving it.

Chord Town Christmas by Anne Crosby Gaudet

Chord Town Christmas

Music by Anne Crosby Gaudet has long been a staple in my studio. Her pieces are engaging and fun for students. Chord Town Christmas is great because – lead sheets! Some of my late beginner/early intermediate students would rather learn to play the melody and make up their own left hand accompaniment. They love the creativity that lead sheets allow. This books provides a nice collection of Christmas melodies and a systematic approach to adding accompaniment. Gaudet also includes ideas for adding an introduction and an ending.

Rote pieces

Some beginning students have specific ideas of what they want to play for Christmas. Generally, I try to find music for them if I can. However, sometimes it’s hard to find specific Christmas music for students who are still pre-reading or have just started learning to read on-staff. When this occurs, if at all possible I will try to teach their requested piece by rote. Some of the pieces requested this year have been Linus and Lucy, Silent Night and O Holy Night. Usually I will write a little map of how to play the piece so that they won’t draw a blank at home. I use my handy-dandy keyboard stamp to show hand positions. We will usually work through the piece little by little, and I will write down what we are doing as we do it. This makes the piece far less intimidating as we work through it together.

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All the links included above are for the purpose of identification. I do not receive any financial gain if you buy these books through the links. Just wanted to make it easier for you!

What is your favorite Christmas repertoire?

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Favorite Repertoire Spring 2017

My-favorites

As a piano teacher, it is so important to find good repertoire that suits the technical abilities of your student yet motivates their inner rock star. In the years I have been writing this blog, I have written several posts on the repertoire I have used which fits the criteria mentioned above. You can find these posts under the category “Great Student Pieces”.

I was very excited to find some new pieces to incorporate into our spring recitals this year. Here’s some of my current favorites:

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I was thrilled to find simple arrangements of popular songs in a compilation book. For years I would search for each individual piece I wanted to teach then simplify the songs with the use of Finale. The skill level in this book has been perfect for a number of students in the studio. The recital this year will include Demons and Counting Stars from this collection.

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The Piano Recital Showcase series from Hal Leonard has been a great addition. The pieces are fresh, attractive and great teaching pieces. My¬†students were able to learn pieces from this collection fairly quickly and have enjoyed playing the pieces because they like how they sound. That’s always a bonus! Students liking how they sound = more practice time!

Here are some of the pieces chosen from this collection:

  1. From Book 1:¬†B.B.’s Boogie, Monster March
  2. From Book 1 (Festival Favorites):¬†Candlelight Prelude, I’ve Gotta Toccata, Toccata Festivo
  3. From Book 2 (Festival Favorites): Sounds of the Rain
  4. From Book 2: The Happy Walrus, Shifty-Eyed Blues
  5. From Book 3: Jump Around Rag

20170427_135734As always,¬†Ocean Spray¬†from Anne Crosby’s book “Fuzzy Beluga” is always an excellent choice for an older beginning student. The piece is played on only black keys and can be taught by rote.

I have also really enjoyed using many of Jennifer Eklund’s pieces found at Piano Pronto. Her piece End Game has been widely enjoyed throughout the studio.

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Some of the¬†pieces from “The Kingdom Series” I keep coming back to. The Dawn,¬†especially. It has two attractive themes which are repeated and used in different ways. A 7th grade boy is playing this piece for the spring recital and has really been motivated to learn this piece. An 8th grade girl is playing¬†The Final Call,¬†which is also a terrific recital piece.

Robert Vandall’s Celebrated Piano Solos series is¬†still a go-to collection.

It seems as though good piano music is more easily available now more than ever. I am very thankful for that! With just the help of a good search engine, we can find the next great motivational recital piece for all our budding stars.

What pieces are your favorites?

Favorite Repertoire Spring 2014

my_favoritesI don’t know about you, but I LOVE getting repertoire ideas from other piano teachers. I love getting recommendations for¬†pieces that pack a punch when it comes to motivating students and boosting musical growth.

In choosing my favorite repertoire, I look for pieces that can be learned somewhat easily. Usually these pieces have repeating patterns or positions that fit easily under the hands. They all have to sparkle. Students want to shine at the recital, or for their Guild auditions, or playing the piano for Grandma at the family gathering. And I want to help them shine.

So here are a few picks for this year:

Anne Crosby Gaudet has lately become one of my favorite composers for elementary and intermediate repertoire. Some of the selections I used this year:
Ocean Spray (from Fuzzy Beluga, published by Frederick Harris)
Celebration (from In My Dreams, published by Frederick Harris)
Busy Beavers (from Freddie the Frog, published by Frederick Harris)
Boogie Woogie Blues (also from Freddie the Frog)
The Waterfall (also from In My Dreams)

Musical MiniaturesI was delighted to find my old copy of Musical Miniatures by Margaret Goldston while going through my music library earlier this year. I had used it several years ago and enjoyed it, then forgot about it when we moved across country a few years ago. Two of the pieces that I taught this year were:
Prelude
Toccatina

Monkey Blues by Ruth Perdew (published by Alfred) has been a student favorite for a few years now. The jazzy melody is a real draw for younger pianists.

Sliding by Faina Lushtak (from Kaleidoscope, part of the Pianovations series from Willis Music) is a great piece for teaching sixteenth note values and finger independence.

The Busy Machine by Dubliansky is found in the FJH Piano Literature Book 1 (part of the Developing Pianists series). It is easy to learn and memorize, with some nice expressive elements included. You don’t always see¬†accelerando¬†in a beginning level piece – it’s fun for students to be given approval to speed up!

I can’t let a “favorites” list go by without including some Robert Vandall selections. His pieces are the epitome of repeating patterns and positions that lay well under the five fingers. The pieces I used the most this year were:
That’s Cool¬†(from¬†Celebrated Virtuosic Solos Book 2)
Scherzo (also CVS2)
Triad Toccatina (from Celebrated Virtuosic Solos Book 3)
Mystical Tarantella (also from CVS3)
High Point Toccata (from Celebrated Virtuosic Solos Book 4)
Prelude #1 in CM (from Preludes Book 1)
Prelude #2 in DM (from Preludes Book 1)
Prelude #4 in FM (from Preludes Book 1)

I use the Faber Piano Adventure series with my students.Some of their pieces are perennial favorites and deserve a spot in the 2014 Favorites:
Pumpkin Boogie (from Lesson 2B)
Night of the Tarantella (from Lesson 3A)
Snowfall (from Lesson 3B)
Highland Jig (from Lesson 3B)

Let It Go (from Frozen). I know some teachers and parents are tired of hearing this song, but I gotta say, if it gets students excited about playing, I will teach it to them. With enthusiasm. ūüôā

Maple Leaf Rag by Joplin. I started a transfer student in January and this is the piece she requested to learn. It has taken months to learn and perfect, but both of us are excited that she is going to play it for the spring recital.

Some surprising inclusions:
Viva La Vida by Coldplay. One of the boys in my studio requested this one. I simplified and rearranged it for him, and it sounds really great. This is going to make a great recital piece as well.
DJ by Usher. Same boy requested this one as well. Again, I simplified and rewrote. He really sounds great playing this. I love that these songs can be so motivating to boys – probably because of the Minecraft parodies. ūüôā

Hope this list is helpful! Feel free to add great pieces you have loved to teach this year.

 

Favorite Christmas Repertoire 2013

Christmas music is always so much fun to teach. Kids are excited to play melodies they recognize and parents love hearing their child play tunes they know and love.

Usually with my beginner students I stick to the Christmas book that supplements the method the student is using. This works beautifully as the music supports the concepts and skills they already understand.

With the older and slightly more advanced students, I found this year that they really enjoyed choosing a Christmas arrangement not from the method book. Here are a few student favorites from this past Christmas:

Alfred-Publishing-Company-Celebrated-Christmas-Solos-Book-2

 

Vandall’s Celebrated Christmas Solos Book 2. I loved teaching pieces from this book. The use of patterns just makes sense to the late elementary student. Some favorites from this book were Silent Night; What Child Is This; Ding, Dong, Merrily on High; Carol of the Bells; and Frosty the Snowman.

Celebrated Christmas Solos 3

 

Vandall’s Celebrated Christmas Solos Book 3. The third book in the series is also a gem. My students particularly enjoyed God Rest Ye Merry, Gentlemen; The First Noel; Hark! The Herald Angels Sing; and Jingle Bell Rock.

There are five levels in this Christmas collection from Vandall. They are all very good.

Christmas Memories Bober

 

Melody Bober’s writing is always creatively accessible to piano students. In book one I especially loved Deck the Halls; Carol of the Bells and We Three Kings. These arrangements are a little longer than the Vandall arrangements, which makes a nice option for recitals and other festive events. Her “Popular Christmas Memories” series is also destined to become a student favorite.

A few duets which are perennial Christmas favorites are Vandall’s “Duet Fantasy on Jingle Bells” (also check out his “Duet Fantasy on Carol of the Bells”) and Leroy Anderson’s iconic piano duet arrangement of “Sleigh Ride”. Both will bring the house down at any recital and will inspire any musician.

Duet Fantasy Jingle BellsSleigh Ride

 

My Christmas music is being filed away today, but I’ll be excited next year when the time comes around to pull out these old friends again!

What’s On My Shelves

As we begin a new year of piano lessons, I naturally start thinking about restocking my supply of piano music. I like to have music readily accessible to hand out to students during the lesson as inspiration hits.

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The most basic books I keep on hand at all times are the method books. I prefer to use Faber’s Piano Adventures series. I usually will require each elementary student to have the Lesson, Performance, and Theory books in their specific level. Although each elementary student has those three books at any given time, we do not follow the performance and theory books through page by page because I like to supplement with other material that is interesting to the individual student. And, as for theory, I have been using my iPad a lot more lately to reinforce theory concepts during the lesson time.

One of the hardest and most rewarding jobs of a piano teacher is finding music for individual students. One must keep in mind skill level, amount of practice time available and student interest. While one student may love to play any Taylor Swift song out there, another student may roll their eyes at the mere mention of playing a Taylor Swift song. Hence, we are constantly on the search for a wide variety of inspirational pieces which will appeal to a huge range of tastes and skill levels.

Here are some of my favorite recent supplemental pieces:

Celebration by Anne Crosby – Read my blog post about it here. Simply a fantastic piece which can be used by multiple skill levels.

Bubble Blues by Ruth Perdew (Myklas Contest Winners Book 1) has been a huge hit especially with elementary boys. The jazzy style and repetitive sequences made it very enjoyable to hear and to play.

A few Robert Vandall pieces are studio favorites (anything by him is notable!):

Trumpet Fanfare (Myklas Contest Winners Book 1)

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That’s Cool, Sprite’s Delight, Spider’s Bite, Tambourine, Scherzo (all found in the book Celebrated Virtuosic Solos Book 2)

Triad Toccatina (Celebrated Virtuosic Solos Book 3)

Whirlwind (Celebrated Virtuosic Solos Book 5)

Recently Fur Elise has made a resurgence in popularity among piano students. This is wonderful because there is so much good teaching material in this piece which translates to other pieces later on.

Linus and Lucy¬†by Vince Guaraldi has required some practice time at the piano, but it is well worth it when the student gets to perform the piece for admiring friends and relatives. This piece puts a smile on everyone’s face!

Other recent additions include:

He’s a Pirate from Pirates of the Caribbean

Misty Mountains from The Hobbit

What Makes You Beautiful by One Direction

I’m Yours by Jason Mraz

Love Story by Taylor Swift

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The Popular Praise series contains many books at different levels. It has been motivating for students to be able to play the songs they sing in their churches and hear on the radio.

I’m sure there will be many new additions to the our piano repertoire this year! I am excited to see where students take me on our road to finding great pieces!

A Winner Piece

Celebration!

This song has revitalized my teaching and has excited my piano students these fast few weeks. It can be so easy to get in the doldrums of mindlessly turning page after page of method book material without interjecting some fun and lively pieces into the mix. (Not that method books don’t have some fun pieces, because they certainly do).

But it‚Äôs nice to surprise your students every so often by saying ‚ÄúThis is what we‚Äôre going to learn today‚ÄĚ, playing something that sounds off-the-charts awesome to them, and then teaching by rote a song that sounds much harder than it actually is to play.

What I like about this piece is that it is based on fifths. Both hands use fifths for most of the piece, but in very clever ways. The main rhythmic pattern of the piece is syncopated eighth notes in 4/4 time: ti-ti-ti, ti-ti-ti, ti-ti. The students never know they are actually playing a rather sophisticated rhythm sequence because I never tell them. When you teach by rote, they play by ear. And when you play by ear, you bypass the (sometimes) confusing visual cues on the page.

The piece is also great because it can be played by beginners through intermediate level students. It can be broken into smaller, manageable segments for beginners to learn, while intermediate students will be able to breeze through the piece more quickly.

While I don‚Äôt usually teach by rote, I do think it is a wonderful and necessary way for students to learn from time to time. I am very traditional in that I want my students to be able to read music, but I‚Äôve also realized that most beginning students have the facility to play at a higher level than the level at which they can read. This is good to know ‚Äď so then I can teach harder songs by rote to keep that motivation level (and sense of accomplishment) high until the reading level catches up.

Check out Celebration by Anne Crosby. It’s a great little winner piece. You can hear it played by the composer here.

Music Recommendation : Elements

This is a beautiful book for beginning piano students. ¬†I especially love using it with older beginners, because the music is lovely and lyrical but not “babyish” at all. ¬†It has lots of repeated patterns and modern harmonies. ¬†It is a good combination of easy-to-play and sounds-harder-than-it-is.

I introduced this book today to an 8th grade girl and she loved it!